Today is Cyber Monday! Likely the biggest shopping day for e-commerce retailers. Probably the day following the biggest weekend of the year for retail stores. Retailers of all kinds are probably selling more this time of year…but at what cost?
However, competing in a low-cost marketplace is dangerous and very few win. Just ask Wal-mart, who had thousands of workers walk out on Black Friday to protest low wages and limited benefits, or Amazon, who lost money for the first time in four years last quarter.
Marco Bertini – professor at London Business School – in an article recently posted in Harvard Business Review says, “A poorly-executed promotional campaign can ruin a brand, and a business just as easily as it can boost sales. And the holiday season exaggerates this threat because discounting has always been the retailer’s weapon of choice.”
Further, Bertini describes sales as something similar to a drug – immediate gains of running a sale or offering a discount are so strong and simple, but with every use, the sale must get bigger and better in order to achieve the same effect, fueling a downward spiral of deeper and more frequent price cuts.”
Finally, Bertini offers seven characteristics of a “smart promotion”:
1. It is a conversation-starter.
2. It is selective
3. It is contingent.
4. It enhances the brand.
5. It is exclusive.
6. It is robust.
7. It is disciplined.
Happy Holidays and may your brand be more like a drug for your customers than your sales are!
When it comes to vacations, when are you happiest?
-One month before you leave
-Three days into the trip
-As soon as you return
According to research out of the Netherlands published in the Applied Research in Quality of Life, sadly, we are happiest when we are planning the vacation. In fact, when we return, we are no more happy than the non-vacationer. That’s right, the anticipation of a vacation is better than the reality of being on the vacation.
Logic tells me that this doesn’t just apply to vacationers. Expectations are almost always bigger than reality – the bigger the reward, the more likely this is to be the case. Dopamine is hard at work. Dopamine is the chemical released in our brain in anticipation of reward. It drives us to chase the reward – more often and with greater force.
Buying anything that we’ve wanted is our dopamine-related reward. Bigger purchase, bigger reward, more dopamine.
While we all think that purchases from local stores have an advantage over internet purchases, this may not actually be the case. Obviously, there are circumstances that can violate whichever side of the theory that you might sit. However, if you sell a product on the Internet, you can find a way to turn this anticipation into an advantage.
In most cases, once a product is purchased on the web, there are three to five days before that product will arrive. Rather than see this delay as a 100 percent disadvantage to an in-store purchase or as something that must be expedited in order to improve your customer relationship, I think there is an opportunity to create a better buying experience for our customers given the research that I revealed above regarding vacations.
Only in rare circumstances is a product actually needed quickly or by a particular date. A small fraction of e-commerce purchases actually result in a customer paying for expedited shipping, and that number dwindles when free shipping is offered. So you have an opportunity with almost every customer to use that customer’s anticipation to your advantage in terms of creating a better buying experience with your brand.
My suggestions for how to use this anticipation are for a future blog or a personalized conversation. Until then, I’ll keep you anticipating.
Chances are that you own a product made by Apple, as about 63 percent of those between the ages 18 and 49 own at least one Apple product, based on a survey completed by CNBC. Apple doesn’t have to worry about that growth slowing either, as those homes with at least one Apple product actually own three devices total on average.
How does Apple do it?
In my opinion, they focus on two key elements – simplicity and elegance. Additionally, they incorporate these two characteristics into every detail. Finally, I also believe that every company – no matter your industry – can learn something from the success of Apple.
As you may know, I own an order fulfillment company (www.rileylife.com) that focuses on providing logistical solutions to brand conscious companies. Applying some of Apple’s vision to my own company has unlocked potential and pushed me to place even more attention on finding new ways to incorporate their principles.
For me, it starts with focus – focus on what we are good at, focus on the details, focus on our customers. Although, probably the most unique thing I’ve learned and applied from Apple is this: Branding starts with packaging.
Better than any company I’ve experienced, Apple’s focus on packaging changes the buying experience for their customers. I can tell you exactly where every box for every Apple device that I own is. I can’t say that about any other company or any other device or product that I own.
Here is a crazy thought: the level of excitement that I’ve seen from people (whether posting pictures on Facebook, repeatedly talking about it, or beyond) receiving Apple products is rival to a new car, though at 1/100th of the cost.
Why is that?
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, famous Apple designer (lead designer of iPod, iPad, iPhone, and MacBook Pro) Jonathan Ive said: “I love the process of unpacking something. You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theatre, it can create a story.”
Does your packaging make your customer feel special?
Does opening your box or receiving your service make your customer feel like they are part of “theatre” or a story?
Packaging creates a story by invoking all five senses, through incorporating something memorable. Packaging describes the level of quality of your product; it tells your customers that what they purchased matters and was worth every penny. It can create mystery, provide pleasure, and build expectations.
While the boxes that leave our facility on their way to the buyers of our customers’ products don’t necessarily resemble that of an iPad, we do aim to create experiences, provide some sort of “wow.” To a certain extent, our customers' branding decisions (and budgets) determine the opportunities we have to provide this experience. However, clean and simple packaging can apply to almost any brand. With each order that we ship, we want our customer to feel like the box that we selected was made for the product(s) that that they purchased. And at all times, if we can’t enhance the experience, we definitely don’t want to detract from it.
The results are amazing, and I’m in the mindset that we only hear about a fraction of the “wows” that we actually help create. What is fun about this all is that each story that we interact with pushes to be more creative and to find even better ways to represent our customers’ unique brands. We are in a unique position in that we have nothing to do with product design, affecting the customers buying decisions, or charging a fair price. What we do affect, we take very seriously and we know it matters – aiming for our packages to experience a “ritual of unpacking” when they arrive.
Just ask an Apple customer – that is probably you.
I run an order fulfillment company called Riley Life Logistics (www.rileylife.com). While this story of how I created a vision for our company relates specifically to my business, I think that it is important to create a driving vision for your company. In my case, there was a moment when everything changed. That doesn't have to be the case for you, but I do recommend that you find something to inspire you to pursue something beyond status quo in your business, in your job.
One Wednesday about 6 months ago, I was in the warehouse quality checking and packaging outgoing orders. I came across an order that called for overnight shipping. As I looked for a good size box, I glanced at the order – nine Pewter Flasks.
“Wow…Who needs nine flasks?…Why?…And Why over-nighted?” were the questions that immediately ran through my mind.
It was then that it hit me:
- Overnight order on a Wednesday
- Order for 9 flasks
This was no ordinary package. These were groomsmen’s gifts likely shipping to a bride who was going to receive them on a Thursday, two days prior to her wedding – one of the biggest days of her life.
I couldn’t just take packing this order lightly. I needed to make sure that everything arrived perfectly – no dented item boxes, no scratched flasks, all nine had to be the right flask. An order that seemed so trivial with items that seemed so uninspiring.
I glanced around:
- A bedskirt for a crib: Was this the final piece needed for a nursery for a family expecting their first child, possibly after trying for years to conceive?
- A hand brace: Was this for a grandfather recovering from hand surgery who can now pitch a baseball to his 4-year-old grandson in the backyard?
- A bow tie: Was this for a young gentleman attending prom for the first time, nervous and needing confidence.
A good packing error percentage is no longer a celebration. Anything less than 100 percent is now evidence of an inconvenience that we’ve added to someone’s story. 99.7 percent (where Riley Life has performed for two years) is well above industry standard. However, through this new lens, that is real people in every 1,000 shipments who deserved better.
With this new vision, Riley Life has improved on standards very few companies could have matched previously. This simple philosophy now drives and stretches our limits in pursuit of perfection for our customers.
Order fulfillment is a relatively thankless business. However, we can quietly observe behind-the-scenes as we add value to the lives of real people with real stories, simply by seeing them as just that.
There is a tale of a Chinese farmer who had an old horse used for tending his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills. The farmer went to the Zen master for wisdom saying, “This is so bad!” The Zen master replied, “Good? Bad? We will see.”
A few days later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills, and this time the farmer ran to the Zen master saying, “This is so good!” The Zen master replied, “Good? Bad? We will see.”
Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. This accident happened in a time when a broken leg meant a life of disability. The farmer went to the Zen master saying, “This is so bad!” The Zen master replied, “Good? Bad? We will see.”
Some weeks later, war broke out and the army marched into the village. They required every able-bodied young man join their forces. When they saw the farmer’s son with his weakened leg, they let him off…
The meaning of this story is pretty clear: Our mind makes notions of “good” and “bad” based on very limited information. If we could see the whole of a situation, then we might just say “we’ll see…” or feel that today’s circumstance was nothing more than a small part of a much larger plan.
It is so difficult for our minds to sit in an area of grey. Things must either be good or bad, black or white, happy or sad/angry. When we are content to sit in that moment of grey, life ironically becomes so much simpler, so much more fulfilling.
Amazingly, many of the worst moments of my life have turned out to be some of my best. I commonly say that I wouldn’t wish Riley’s diagnosis and illness on my worst enemy, but that I wouldn’t change a thing. So much goodness has resulted. Of course, I wish that I could take her disease as my own, live her pain instead of her. That, however, is not meant to be. Also, don’t misunderstand me by saying that pain has not resulted from this and numerous other horrible situations. However, we have a choice in pursuing the good in every situation.
That bad event gave me an understanding of what it means to be a father, to love, to be loyal, and to sacrifice. I was able to build a relationship with my daughter that most will never experience but that will thrive for our lifetimes. That event put me on the path to healing my relationship with Riley’s amazing mother – Allison. So much perspective, positive decision making, and heart felt love for others has come from that day of pain.
May the tragic events of our lives drive us to become closer to those around us, to push us to love others more deeply, and help us to reach out to those in need more frequently.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus (Greek born slave to Rome who later become a great philosopher and teacher)
Increasingly, I’ve observed behavior that disturbs me. In fact, I’ve realized that unless I catch myself, I actually act like this, too (from time to time). What I’ve witnessed is that other people are quite often treated like servants or objects in the eyes of people rather than human beings with lives and stories.
Think about it. I bet if you trace back your day you will actually be able to identify a few times when you treated someone else like a servant or object rather than a person. Commanding your child to take out the trash, telling your employee to do something or not do something, yelling at another driver for inconveniencing you, ignoring the cashier when she asks you about your shopping experience, growling at the waitress when she brings you tea with too much water in it.
Do you ever stop and think about the complexities of our civilization? Everyone has a story and everyone is doing their own thing. Roughly 7 billion living humans. Roughly 312 million Americans all living totally different lives. Then all of a sudden, my world conflicts with your world and…boom – you are my servant and you are not cooperating with my story. Rather than realize this conflict, we either mentally, verbally or physically lash out at this other person.
I was in a parking lot the other day and witnessed an argument between two women who apparently both were going for the same parking spot. One lady thought she had the right to the spot and the other somehow took it from her. No big deal, right? – nope – apparently it was a huge deal. Right there in the parking lot they were in each other's faces screaming at each other as if getting into TJ Maxx was a life and death situation. Really sad to witness.
When you go to a restaurant, you pay for good service and for good food. You don’t pay for perfection. Waiters, call center representatives, cab drivers, cashiers, salesmen, and your employees are all just trying to provide for their family, make something of themselves, and make the ones they love proud. They aren’t my servant nor an object for my consumption, and they don’t want to be.
I can honestly say that I’ve never been driving and leaned over to my passenger to comment on how fantastic a driver the guy in front of me is. Once or twice, I’ve done the opposite. Ok, literally, almost every time I drive anywhere I find at least one idiot. If I knew that idiot’s story or knew them personally at any level, would I be embarrassed by my comments? For a moment, I treated them as some creature placed in my life to disrupt me, and then they didn’t do what they were told.
We are all people. Loved by many, hated by a few. Possibly even servant to a few, but by choice and not because of inequality. Just because I want to serve you doesn’t mean that I’m your servant. So let’s stop acting like it.
Last Saturday, he posted a blog that was short but truly profound. I think his insight on trust is so simple that it could almost be overlooked.
I want to make sure that you didn’t overlook it. Enjoy!:
Where does trust come from?Add a comment
Hint: it never comes from the good times and from the easy projects.
We trust people because they showed up when it wasn’t convenient, because they told the truth when it was easier to lie and because they kept a promise when they could have gotten away with breaking it.
Every tough time and every pressured project is another opportunity to earn the trust of someone you care about.
I love this kind of stuff! I am a personal development and growth nut. I believe there is enormous value in developing myself as a person and a leader. Additionally, I am willing to take the long and hard way in order to get to the spot on the road that I want to go in my personal development journey.
Ironically, while I am outwardly a very positive person (based on results from “Strength Finders” as well as my “360 Feedback Survey”), inwardly I am an extremely self-critical and negative person. This information will likely shock anyone that knows me pretty well but not extremely well.
There are three symptoms that have resulted from my completion of these two leadership retreats:
1. I have dissected my strengths and WEAKNESSES more thoroughly than any President of the United States – leaving me with a lot of knowledge about myself, my feelings, my beliefs, my behaviors and so on. As you likely know, this kind of knowledge can be dangerous if too much attention is focused on negatives.
2. I know that I do not take negative criticism well (also based on “360 Feedback Survey”), even when it comes from myself. Actually, especially when it comes from myself.
3. I left both retreats with some immediate and important changes that I wanted to make in my life and in my company. I know that I’m weak in the area of being consistent. In itself this is a problem. However, when you combine the fact that the majority of my initiatives require me to be consistent and stick with something different, we have a bigger problem.
Unfortunately, this knowledge while immediately making me feel empowered has eventually resulted in the outcome of a mental, spiritual and emotional low for myself – exactly the opposite of what I’m sure the other retreat participants are experiencing. This low comes from the fact that I have not stopped focusing on the negatives that I’ve come to realize about myself.
What I’ve realized is just how much I need cheerleaders in my life. I need people around me who know me. I’ve seen that I’m not that unique in terms of needing cheerleaders. It’s important that I’m told often tangible and specific positive things that I’m doing, have done for others, or that I can offer the world in the future.
I’m not asking to be surrounded by “Yes” Men, especially not in my role of operating a company and managing a team of people or fathering a family of four. I’m definitely not calling out anyone in particular at work or home that challenges me because I have done a good job of surrounding myself with people that hold me accountable while building me up at other times.
I want to be challenged. I need to be challenged for the company to grow and my family to thrive. However, I have a huge need to leave the challenging behind that confronts me on a daily basis in order to put myself around those that cheerlead me. This need is true for everyone to a certain extent. If we have the confidence to challenge someone on a personal level, we need to have the love to cheerlead that person.
Gary Chapman wrote a book called “The Five Love Languages” which has become an important book to many people and their marriages since it was published in 2004. In this book, Chapman talks about how we all give and receive love in what can be boiled down into five different languages. For example, my primary love language is “Words of Affirmation” which means that I give and receive love primarily through hearing from and telling those around me how much they mean to me – using words to affirm my love.
It struck me that I’m not counteracting my self investigation with enough of these positive words. I have challenged myself. Now it is time that I escape to cheerlead myself.
For some reason I don’t make too many little mistakes. When I make mistakes, I make big ones. When I fall, I don’t scuff my knees, I break bones. When I do damage to bridges in relationships, I don’t burn the bridge, I blow it up. This way of life really kind of sucks, to be honest. I have no hope of friendship, usually, after I leave a mistake behind – most often, the other people involved view me as an enemy.
I am the son of an amazing single mother who remarried a great man, who I now view as much my own father as anyone else would their own biological father.
No matter what my parents did for me, I was always left with a void. Not a void of lack of love or concern, but only the void that a biological father who walks away from his family can leave. Left with a feeling that regardless of how many times I was told that I was good enough or cared about enough that one of the two people that should almost automatically feel that way – didn’t. Or worse yet, didn’t care. The void manifested in a constant seeking of approval from others. Ironically, the harder I tried to find approval, the more I found void. I didn’t realize until much later that this void could and would never be filled by my pursuits nor the affirmations of others.
Never wanting anyone to have the slightest negative opinion of me for fear that my “true worthlessness” (my perception created by my father leaving) might be exposed. If I could make others happy, they might let me stay around and they might continue to express that I carry some positive value. Always on eggshells, never willing to take too big of a risk. For taking a risk might leave me standing alone, the place I feared most.
I got tired of this inability to walk barefoot around others, to really share with others who I was because of the fear of exposure or failing to live up to expectations. Ok, I wasn’t tired, I was exhausted. That is when I started to make big mistakes. Huge mistakes, actually. Bigger mistakes than I thought possible in my lifetime.
In an instant – Love for me turned to hatred. Friends became enemies. Sanctuaries now dangerous places.
I jumped from meek to arrogant in one leap. I started making decisions that turned into huge mistakes, and before I knew it, I was buried in a mass of mistakes that was suffocating but liberating at the same time. The liberation that can only come from a life of running that is suddenly no longer moving forward. Choosing to make these mistakes allowed me to take down the walls that I built around me. Arrogance took hold in a way that I said to the world – “I do not care what you think anymore.”
If I was going to burn a bridge, why not just blow it up? I quickly found, though that living on an island with blown up bridges all around is not a place anyone wants to be, regardless of how arrogant, independent, or self reliant someone might consider themselves. I needed others – we all do. Predictably, the ones I needed most were on the other side of the chasm, and now I was left without a bridge to cross.
“The life we end up with is simply an accumulation of all the choices we make.” – Darren Hardy
What I realized is that healing starts with humility. When I make mistakes, the first step is for me to own it. I apologize to God, to the people that I hurt, and I do my best to work with them at equal height (not from my knees groveling) to rebuild the bridge I destroyed, to heal the broken bones and to move forward humbly.
“Right actions for the future are the best apologies for wrong ones in the past.” – Tyron Edwards
It doesn’t always work, but I have realized that amazing things happen when I start by accepting that I am at fault, that I am 100 percents responsible for my behaviors and the outcomes around me. I don’t control all of the variables, but I do control myself and most importantly my reaction to the environment that I’ve mostly created.
It takes a lot longer to rebuild the bridge than it does to blow it up. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the reconstruction is any less dangerous or harmful than the destruction. The process not only begins with humility but must continue throughout. I’m focusing on one board at a time, working hard to place each board correctly.Add a comment
I find it helpful for me to pick a theme for phases of my life. This theme forces me to focus on modification of one important negative behavior that I feel is detrimental to my well-being and overall happiness. For the last year or so, my theme was "Fewer and Deeper." I was trying to do too much. I needed to trim back my life in order to focus on the people and things that matter most, focusing on fewer involvements but deeper meaning.
Now, I am going to focus on "Reacting to Negativity Positively."
As an American, a business owner, father of a child with an incurable disease, and man trying to rebuild a marriage that was lost but that only God could resurrect, negativity hovers over me often. I've made enemies, sometimes deserved and others undeserved. No secret is our nation's economic troubles; the climate for small business owners is beyond difficult to navigate. Regardless of the state of the economy, running a company can test your resilience and ability to deal with very difficult situations. They are tough shoes to stand in as you hold the financial fate of people and their families in your hands. Truly negative are the days when terminations are required.
Thick skin is not my thing. I am emotional and reactive. I believe in leading with vulnerability and humility. I hire people not employees. I live as a servant first to those around me. I don't shy away from tough but necessary situations, but it takes a lot out of me. With this unpredictable negativity that occurs, I must strive to react with a positive attitude when facing it.
From all negative comes something positive, from death - life, in pain we grow, and in loss comes gain.
So what does this practically mean for my life?
As a North Carolina Tar Heels basketball diehard, I don't watch Duke basketball games anymore. I realized that I only feel anger when I watch Duke. That anger doesn't hurt Duke or their chances of winning. It only hurts me. Why do I want to subject myself to this negativity that I know I can't react positively to?
Traffic makes me act like an idiot. Obviously, sometimes traffic is unavoidable. However, I've realized that there are moments in my life when I can avoid traffic. So I do.
Also, it has become clear to me that when someone cuts me off or does something crazy while driving, I get angry for one reason - They think that they are better than me or that their time is more important than mine. In all, I've probably lost about 3 minutes of my life taken from me by idiots who drive recklessly around me. If I could get back all the time that I've spent angry about losing those 3 minutes, I could have read at least 50 books that I've been wanting to read or watched 2000 movies I've been dying to see or taken my daughter to the beach 10 times.
I don't understand why we do things that we hate, why we put ourselves in situations that we know will make us angry, why we hang around with people that do anything but make us happy, or pursue hate rather than joy. However, there is a better way and that is to pursue positive things, situations and people and when we encounter negativity to do our best to react positively. At least that is my focus for the next phase of my life.Add a comment
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